Pat McCune, President and CEO of Community Bank, likes to point out that Community Bank, “with a capital ‘C,’ capital ‘B,’” feels an obligation to epitomize all that comprises a community bank, “lower-case ‘c,’ lower-case ‘b.’”
The community is not only in their name, but at the heart of everything they do and donate.
Consider Andy, an adorable Shih Tzu whose life was rescued through the bank’s support of the Animal Care Fund at the Humane Society of Greene County. The lively, compact little Andy is just one of the many homeless dogs and cats the Humane Society has kept alive in the animal shelter’s daily quest to match abandoned and abused pets with pet-loving forever families.
And consider the 100,000 hot meals they have helped serve to the hungry and homeless through the Washington City Mission last year, at a sturdy red-brick building whose primary mission is to reverse every single descent into poverty by feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless and healing the despairing.
For Community Bank, a 115-year-old financial institution, charity has always begun at the bank.
Community Bank leaders started the “Community Bank Cares” program in March 2014. With each direct loan of more than $20,000, the customer can designate a charity that the bank then donates $100 to, in unrestricted funds. Nonprofits – both local and national, schools, fire companies, and more have benefited from this Community Bank-to-customer-to charity pipeline.
According to McCune, “’Community Bank Cares’ is a perfect illustration of our spirit in the sense that we want to embed charitable giving in the most basic products and services we provide and do it in partnership with our customers.”
McCune underscores that the charity donated to is, for the borrowing customer, “their choice. Contributions are made in their name and in their honor.”
“This reveals the passions of our customers,” he added, “and there is an astonishing variety of passions.”
Some organizations were unknown to the bank before, but customers do their part to raise awareness of the charity and give back, whether the cause is autism awareness, cancer research, domestic violence prevention, poverty eradication, or animal rescue.
In less than three years, the bank has given donations 1,500 times. While some organizations are repeat recipients, the bank has remarkably supported 1,500 different charities, McCune said.
“It’s a constant reminder of the vibrancy of our local community and our local people and their heart,” McCune said.
“It’s more than just money. We are weaving another stitch in the fabric of our community.”
The money becomes more than a check. It becomes a legacy. “We ask our customers, ‘What do you want to be remembered for?’’”
Then the bank works in partnership with them to improve the community. As of December 2016, $153,000 has been given through the program, and that figure is over and above the other charitable giving the bank regularly engages in each year.
For the Humane Society, which operates without government support, private donations are all they’ve got to run on to save their furry friends.
The Community Bank donations enabled them to strengthen their Outreach Program and visit more homes. They were also able to care for more rescued animals and add to their programming, especially to fight for animals who have suffered horrible abuse and neglect by their owners.
In the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, more than $51,500 has been raised in five years, and bank employees are not just check-writers and check-collectors; they lace up their sneakers and don their sweat pants and actively participate in the walk. In fact, Team Community Bank has participated in every Relay for Life walk since its inception in Washington County nearly 20 years ago.
Another beneficiary of the bank’s generosity was the North Belle Vernon Community Park, now known as “Community Bank Park.” This park is now a multi-sport venue with updated facilities, a new handicapped-accessible playground and security upgrades to keep the park safe for families.
Andrew Corfont, the bank’s vice-president of marketing administration, noted that the bank was formed in 1901 with the “founding philosophy of ‘neighbor helping neighbor’ and that’s what we do every day.”
This ingredient is part of why Community Bank was named among the Top 200 community banks by American Banker Magazine in 2016, soon after their fall 2014 closing of its merger with First Federal Savings Bank. In 2015, they were also awarded the Bauer Financial “Five Star Award” for outstanding performance and safety, augmented by an award from Sandler O’Neill as one of the top 34 community banks in the U.S.
Based in Carmichaels in Greene County, the locally owned and operated bank’s service area stretches into Allegheny, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland County, south and west of Pittsburgh, with 16 offices to serve customers.
Hugging the borders of Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia, Community Bank’s primary market is the satellite cities to the south of Pittsburgh.
For decades, the lifeblood of the area’s economy was the extraction industries–coal, natural gas, steel, manufacturing–“classic” Pittsburgh-area roots, McCune said.
The economy prospered in the first half of the 20th century and then went into a tailspin with the collapse of the steel industry, leaving gutted-out factories strewn like tombstones across the grey land. As the move to green energy heated up, jobs evaporated, businesses closed their doors, plants were shuttered, homes along tidy streets went up for sale, and small, rural towns died a slow death.
The bank, with a motto of “The Better Business Bank,” did not sit on the sidelines as the coal industry declined in their slice of smalltown America. They decided to be proactive and help fill the vacuum.
“One of our core beliefs is that the bank has an obligation to drive economic development to help the area gain its former luster,” McCune said.
“We have developed products and services to help small businesses succeed and educated the business community and political leaders as to how to improve the area,” McCune said.
They believe strongly in “mutual prosperity” and in being “partners in progress.”
That commitment is a long-standing one.
The bank was founded at the turn of the century after Congress amended the National Bank Act to lower the amount of capital needed to form a national bank in a small town, from a minimum of $50,000 to $25,000. Those first founders met at the Hartley Inn to organize The First National Bank of Carmichaels. One of the founder’s sons, Richard L. Baily, served the bank for 71 years, making a gradual upward trajectory from teller on up to president and chairman of the board. His loyalty and longevity symbolizes the bank’s life.
Unlike many banks, there were no runs on the bank during the Great Depression that caused the assets of many fellow banks to dwindle precipitously and forced President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare a bank holiday period across the U.S. Community Bank was one of the first in the nation to reopen after that government-ordered hiatus.
The bank continued to grow and earn the loyalty of its customers through the social, political and economic upheaval of World War II. Even the cannon of the Washington County Courthouse was scrapped for salvage for the war effort. The bank and area women sold millions in war bonds and stamps. In 1951, the bank posted assets at $4.7 million.
In one of the most talked-about points in its history, in 1961, the bank, still operating as FNB of Carmichaels, was robbed by four heavily armed–and intoxicated–robbers. Fortunately for the bank but unfortunately for the criminal, one of the robbers dropped his Social Security card in an alley beside the bank, leading to his ultimate arrest by Pennsylvania State Police.
In 1970, the bank had accumulated assets of $14 million, and computerization ended manual calculations. In 1983, ATMs debuted for FNB of Carmichaels, and the bank began to open branch after branch. Branch openings continued in places that included Waynesburg, Greensboro, McMurray, Monessen, Perryopolis, Belle Vernon, Canonsburg, Washington and Uniontown.
The fixture changed its name to Community Bank in 1987.
Combining high-tech with high-touch, the century-old bank and its employees never wavered from their “customer comes first” pledge. They know that technology is a tool to advance, not a substitute, for, old-fashioned, top-notch customer service.
By 2000, after enduring the Y2K scare without a hiccup, Community Bank posted assets of $220 million.
By 2008, a life-altering phenomenon changed the landscape in Greene and Washington Counties. Major energy and drilling industry companies began developing the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation rich with natural gas, and established corporate offices across southwestern Pennsylvania. Likened by many hopeful investors to a modern-day gold rush, the silent, resource-rich formation snaking beneath the bank’s service territory earned Washington County the title of “The Energy Capital of the East.”
To link bank customers and the community with the flood of newly available Shale jobs, in 2008, Community Bank launched the Tri-County Oil and Gas Expo. The job fair has grown to include thousands of participants over several expos, including a job expo, a Business to Business Expo, and a Safety and Education Summit.
By 2010, the bank’s assets reached $497.2 million–more than double the assets from only ten years before.
It was a far cry from its earliest days, when it operated in the corner room of the N.H. Biddle House, and also served as the home of the town library and barbershop–a place for a good novel and a good haircut.
In harnessing the economic power of the Marcellus Shale, McCune said, “We are dedicated to pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps so our kids have jobs, schools have the dollars they need to succeed and we can offer job training so people can get good jobs and stay in the area and prosper,” McCune said.
The investment in the future has paid off. “The area is improving. Communities are stirring back to life and there are lots of options,” he said.
Pat O’Brien, the bank’s senior vice-president and COO, said, “We promoted economic development in the area and raised awareness of the Marcellus Shale.”
“We find ways to give back to the community. Our people are involved in so much.”
O’Brien noted that each year, employees run 5Ks, serve on nonprofit boards, walk in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and support their local churches.
He deems their involvement in the community nothing short of “phenomenal.”
“They give in terms of dollars and cents and in hours as volunteers,” O’Brien said.
He added that their job fairs were an instant hit. From the feedback the bank received, many people got hired on the spot, and were taken out immediately for physicals and drug testing. An estimated 60 to 65 percent of fair attendees got jobs, when the bank worked with the Tri-County Oil and Gas Association.
Corfont said there was a large need for everything from truck drivers and laborers to professionals who were then “given the opportunities.”
The bank also is involved in the United Way Campaign, the American Heart Association, the Alzheimer’s Association, and other nonprofits.
“If anyone in the family who needs help is suffering from hardship or illness, Community Bank rallies around them,” Corfont said.
Their volunteer efforts and corporate and personal generosity earned Community Bank the Philanthropy Award from the Washington County Community Foundation.
The two “Pats” embrace that award as a key part of their banking careers. Pat McCune has been a bank director for 25 years, and Pat O’Brien has been in banking for 34 years.
O’Brien has had a front-row seat to both “dramatic changes and dramatic consistencies” in those 34 years.
What is consistent is one of the five “C’s” of credit—character, he said.
Character endures–“knowing the borrower and their heart and their drive. It’s essential.”
“As community banks, we pay closer attention to that than some of our competitors do, allowing us to serve our clients better,” O’Brien said. “That’s why our organization loves the culture of Community Bank with a capital ‘C,’ capital ’B,’ and our community banks, with a lower case ‘c’, lower case ‘b.’”
Of course, added regulations have led to added work.
Still “basic issues of people knowing people and people helping people” have withstood the test of time.
Though technology has changed much, and people can now text and transact online, so much is still the same.
“We differentiate ourselves through our relationships,” O’Brien said.
“We care about our customers and will work hard to serve them and stay the same.”
Proof positive is the Washington City Mission, which the bank assists with its banking needs, along with helping them as a corporation and as individuals.
“We are big fans here of Community Bank,” said Dr. Sally Mounts, Director of Development for Washington City Mission.
Dr. Mounts said the Community Bank Cares program leads to an average of four to six $100 checks from bank customers each month, “and we are thrilled to receive them. A hot meal at our shelter kitchen costs $2.26, so Community Bank and the generous people who choose us are donating the equivalent of 175 to 275 meals a month. That’s a big deal.”
She added: “One of the reasons we love partnering with Community Bank is because their top executives really support, and are active in, the non-profit community. They sit on boards, chair fundraisers, and devote hundreds of hours each year to worthy causes that build better communities. Pat O’Brien, for example, has been the emcee for our largest fundraiser, Sweet Sunday, for the last four years. I’m sure there are nights when they’d rather just go home, have dinner, and relax, and delegate the duties to someone else. But they are always out, promoting City Mission and other non-profits.”
The kindness chain may start at the top but it travels along the entire banking network. “I think that philosophy of contribution trickles down through the employee ranks. We’re proud to be associated with such compassionate, caring people,” Mounts said.
That personal service and investment in the ups and downs–and hearts and souls–of the community differentiates them from the big banks.
Enduring through the Depression, war, bank heists, Y2K, an onslaught of government regulation and more, this Community Bank is indeed living and giving as one of America’s quintessential community banks.